This is one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Father Anselm of the Gilbertine Order Larkwood Monastery near Cambridge receives a call from John Fielding, who’s been a friend since they were 11 years old and sent to the same school. Anselm had gone into law before becoming a monk, while John went into journalism. John had traveled globally and had been a reporter for BBC when he was forced to leave Warsaw in 1982 for “espionage.” Which translates as talking to dissidents.
Since then, John had been involved in an automobile accident and had lost sight in both eyes. And he needs help. The woman he was meeting with in 1982, who was to connect him to a shadowy dissident known as the Shoemaker and had herself been arrested, had shown up at his door in London. She was asking for help in bringing to trial the man in the secret police who had arrested them.
But this wasn’t her first arrest by the secret police officer. That had happened in 1951. She and the officer had been in the anti-Nazi resistance together as teens. In 1951, he had arrested her but executed her husband. He had also persuaded her to give up the child she was carrying and gave birth to in prison.
And now, the officer had survived the fall of the communist regime in 1989 and was quietly retired, spending his days with his stamp collection. Many people want him brought to justice.
In other hands, The Day of the Liewould have been an interesting story of the aftermath of the Cold War. In the hands of author William Brodrick, the story is less a mystery novel and far more serious literary fiction, with a slight suspense element to it. This novel is as good as any of the John LeCarrenovels, and LeCarre ranks as one of the best spy story writers.
Reading this story is like opening kachina dolls. You think you’ve found the answer – for example, who the informant was that betrayed John and the woman – and it turns out not to be an answer but only a path deeper into the story. And along the way Brodrick explores human motivation and psychology, the damage wreaked by years of first Nazi and then Soviet domination, and how all that history continues to shape, guide, and distort the present.
Brodrick was a friar in the Augustine order before he became a barrister and a writer. He’s written , with A Whispered Name winning the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award in 2009. He lives in France. (And the Gilbertine Order was a real order of monks but was disbanded by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s.)
The Day of the Lieis a masterpiece, and I don’t use that term lightly.
Top photograph: Mokowtow Prison in Warsaw, by Jolanta Dyr via . The prison plays a significant role in The Day of the Lie.